Women, Social Media and Influence
Posted by Allison Fine on December 4, 2009
My friend Linda Tarr-Whelan, a colleague at Demos, published a wonderful book this year called Women Lead the Way. In the book, Linda outlines the distressingly dismal statistics of the flatlining of women’s leadership in all three sectors. For instance, the number of women in Congress has increased a whopping 2% from 14-16% in fifteen years, and the number of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies has actually gone down.
Not yet depressed enough, I began to dig in further and found that the number of women film directors is less than 10% of the total, and the number of women CEOs of the largest nonprofit organizations has remained flat for years at 20% of the total. There was more bad news, but I don’t want to depress you too much!
There are a variety of reasons for the lack of progress for women in traditional institutional positions. Some women who could afford to have opted out as Lisa Belkin wrote, or chosen to get off of the leadership track for more balance in their lives, or hit the still-in-place glass ceiling. We have lots of firsts, women generals, and CEOs and almost presidents, and the idea of a woman in almost any job other than linebacker for the Giants, is easy to imagine, but the numbers of women in senior leadership positions within institutions, particularly in comparison to the number of women graduating with advanced degrees is astonishingly low. And, as Linda points out, low in comparison to other democratic countries.
So, I roused myself from my depression and began to wonder if perhaps the advent of social media could change this trajectory. Are social media channels like blogs, Twitter and Facebook, opportunities for women to overcome the traditional barriers that exist within institutions of position, financial resources and permission? Could women use social media to create their own followings and platforms for discussing issues and influencing other people’s opinions and actions?
There are lists of influential women bloggers, like this one: 50 Most Influential Women in Social Media in 2008. This ranking is based on Alexa rankings of traffic to these sites unlike the Technorati authority that ranks blogs according to the number of incoming links. But since Technorati doesn’t break out any data by gender, we have lists like this one.
But, these kinds of lists leave me with more questions than answers. For instance, is the amount of traffic the same as influence or power? How do we compare this online presence to on land power? Would these women have been just as powerful in the analog world, or has social media enabled them to do and be something entirely different? And is it important to compare these rankings to a comparable set of men?
I began to scratch the surface on these kinds of questions and came across something very interesting. The School of Journalism at Indiana University reports that women have remained a constant 33% of all journalists in mainstream media for years. Technorati reports in its annual report on the blogosphere that women make up one third of bloggers. So, they’re the same, right? Wrong, many more women than men graduate from journalism school and women make up 54.2 percent of journalists with only five years experience. This means that before women can become truly influential journalists they drop out, or opt out or get bounced out. Will the same kind of trajectory affect women bloggers, I wonder?
Although the question of influence works across the social media landscape, I am particularly interested, no surprise!, in women, social media and social change.
As I begin to dig deeper into this area, I wanted to ask for some help. Here are a few questions that I hope others will help me to wrestle with — or disabuse of me of the notion entirely! They are:
- Is my gut instinct that social media may offer an opportunity for women to become more influential than in traditional organizations correct?
- Who else is looking into this so I don’t reinvent the wheel? But, please let me distinguish something important. There are a lot of organizations, like the Pew Center on the Internet and American Life and Blogher that have studied how women are using social media. This is different from the questions that I have as to whether women using social media are themselves becoming more influential. I’m not so much interested in knowing that the majority of Twitter users are women (which they interestingly report) but rather are particular women Twitter users influential in their own right (in addition to Beth, of course!) and more influential than they would be on land.
- How should influence be defined? Beth wrote a great post called Measuring the Impact, Not the Influence. She cautions against being dazzled by the numbers of readers or friends or followers and missing the more important point of the need for influencers to build relationships and turn all of that good capital into social change. This is the same in the program evaluation world of getting carried away with outputs, numbers of people served, and missing the outcomes or results. As I commented on that post, I think there has to be a balance between the need to have a large audience of potential doers and then getting them to do something.
Really looking forward to this conversation and your help, thanks!
Full Disclosure: I am considering turning these thoughts into a research proposal for next year.
This entry was posted on December 4, 2009 at 9:41 am and is filed under Social Media. Tagged: beth kanter, Blogher, Linda Tarr-Whelan, Pew Center of the Internet and American Life. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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